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Obama and the Iranian bomb



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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November 18, 2008

LONDON - ”Consensus, compromise and commerce”. These should be the loadstars for president-elect Barack Obama as he prepares himself to take over the misshapen and counterproductive policies of his predecessor towards Iran.

Years of hostile diplomacy, reaching back to the hostage crisis under the presidency of Jimmy Carter , through to the rebuff by President Bill Clinton of Iran's president when he suggested a serious dialogue, to the ”axis of evil”, in-your-face non-diplomacy of the Bush years, have all angered Iran. Moreover, it has had the serious side effect of depriving international markets of the full abundance of Iranian oil, which has been a major contributor to higher than necessary oil prices.

The pedigree of hostility suggests that it not just Iran's perceived pursuit of nuclear weapons that upsets Washington and its European partners but the whole stance of Iran to the world since the pro-Western Shah was overthrown and a theocratic regime came to power, one that has had no compunction about confronting the West over the Palestinian/Israeli dispute and its corollary, supporting the militant movement Hebzollah in Lebanon which has spearheaded Lebanese anger at Israeli incursions.

There can be no question that Iran's scientists are engaged in serious research that could lead them to the doorstep of nuclear-bomb making. But this is the mentality of ex-Third World states who no longer have to fawn before Western economic and political superiority. As their economies and educational systems have led them out of poverty and upwards in their development, putting them on a par with countries like Spain and Portugal at the time when they entered the European Union a mere generation ago, they want to show their stuff.

Hence the Chinese launch of a man in space, the Indian probe of the moon and even Nigeria's failed satellite. In Brazil there is a loud debate on why Brazil is lagging behind in all this and the government is urging the scientists on to develop better rockets to launch satellites, and to enrich uranium in exactly the same way as the Iranians are, so that it can develop its own energy independence. (Brazil, however, has renounced its previous efforts to build a bomb and, unlike with Iran, the outside world takes Brazil's declarations at face value)

Worrying as Iran's paranoid state of secrecy is and its serial deceptions, it doesn't mean that Iran is going to build a bomb. Nor does it mean it will develop the sophisticated heavy payload rockets that can carry a bomb. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has said on a number of occasions that Islam forbids nuclear bombs. But even if cynics distrust that, Iran will achieve its nationalistic purpose by being a screwdriver away from a bomb, without ever bringing it out of the closet.

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The purpose, after all, is not to threaten Israel which would be a self-destructive war nor to attack Europe, (which is the supposed reason for America building an anti-ballistic missile site in Poland), which could overwhelm it with the French and British nuclear forces, backed up by America's. It is to showcase that it has become a power to respect. As Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh, wrote in the February issue of Foreign Affairs, ”Iran is not seeking to create disorder in order to fulfil some scriptural promise, nor is it an expansionist power with unquenchable ambitions.” Iran might as well put its bomb - assuming it builds one - in a museum so visitors could see what in the year 2010 the country was capable of. It can have no other use than to show off the country's scientific abilities.

Iran - or to call it by its old name, Persia - is, like China, a civilization that goes back unbroken for two and a half millennia. Moreover, it has never been colonised. It remembers with pride that at the Versailles Treaty negotiations at the end of World War 1, when Europe and the Middle East were carved up, Iran was the only country in the Middle East to be left alone.This is why it resents so strongly the attempt made by the the British and later the Americans to subvert its regime in the 1940s and 1950s and why it resists American and European bossiness today.

If Iran enjoyed favourable commercial and security ties with the U.S. and Europe, it could probably be convinced to restrain its nuclear ambitions. The long time American embargo has hindered its economic development. The threat of worse sanctions makes it bloody minded despite the deprivation that that would entail. (Recall white-run South Africa.) What is needed today is dialogue, compromise and commerce. There is no good reason why they shouldn't work.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
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Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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